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A tale of two stores

With one store in a city centre and the other in a suburb, Gary Trickett is well placed to compare the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

Gary Trickett’s two East Midlands health stores have experienced differing fortunes during the pandemic crisis. For the Leicester city centre shop, it’s been particularly harrowing.

Both Healthy Route stores – the other is at West Bridgford, a posh suburb of Nottingham – have traded through difficult times and provide a snapshot of how lockdowns have affected business in different locations.

“Our Leicester store, like other stores trading in city centres, has been hit harder,” says Gary. Remaining open as an essential retailer, sales dropped to about 30% in the early days of lockdown and were slowly climbing back up as the day approached when all stores could open.

But two days after this lifting of restrictions, Leicester went into its own lockdown as the city reeled from a sudden spike in cases.

“Since then, we are only trading at 50-60% against last year,” says Gary.

“Sales in our West Bridgford store dropped to 60% at the lowest point and all staff kept working, though we reduced the opening hours. Now the store is back fully open and trading at 90-95%.”

Staff at the Leicester store were furloughed with just Gary himself working in the store six days a week with reduced opening hours, until other city centre shops could open. Since then, the store has been operating at half complement of two staff members a day, including the second lockdown.

West Bridgford staff initially worked reduced hours but their time has gradually increased to the point where they are full time again.

As with many health food stores, Healthy Route’s average basket value doubled while footfall dropped by two-thirds. “Customers have obviously been more cautious,” says Gary, “but they are understanding of the situation and are eager to support independents like us.

“During lockdown, we saw a spike in immunity products together with flour, yeast and prepacks.”

Throughout the crisis, home deliveries have proved a boon to customers and now Healthy Route is developing an online platform.

Agonisingly slow recovery

Like Healthy Route, Leicester, probably around half of health stores operate in a city or town centre, according to a survey of National Association of Health Stores members on trading through the COVID-19 crisis.

Of the 41 stores that responded, two-thirds were trading full-time and none had closed, while a third operated at reduced opening hours. Just under 27% had staff on furlough at the beginning of September.

Footfall had not increased for 55% of responding stores since lockdown was lifted, although one store had seen a 50% increase in footfall. Just over 36% had seen an increase in takings.

Interestingly, 55% still do not have an online presence despite the figures showing that UK consumers are shopping online more than ever before.

However, a whopping 78% of stores are now offering a Call & Collect service.

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